Oh iMac, Where Are You?

If you take a look at the Buyers Guide on MacRumors, you’ll notice that the iMac has been lying dormant for just under a year (since May 2011 to be precise), the longest period of silence since before 2008. The site recommends that any potential iMac buyers hold off for the time being, seeing as ”updates are due soon”. This would tie in with Apple’s product refresh cycle, which usually occurs every year.

But this hibernation got me thinking about two things. Firstly, are we due to see a massive overhaul of the iMac product line sometime in May/June and secondly, have Apple forgotten about their fantastic range of desktop computers?

iMac Splash

Apple's iMac hasn't seen a refresh since July 2011, the longest period of dormancy since 2008.

Where Are The New iMacs?

Desktop computers are, in some people’s eyes, becoming a bit of a dying breed. Mobility and portability is a real bonus when it comes to technology (seeing as most technology companies are obsessed with making their devices as thin and light as possible) and it’s true that you can’t lug your desktop computer around with you when you go to work – it stays on your desk for pretty much the whole year. However, I like having a fixed computer at home (which is, at the moment, a bog-standard MacBook) and if I need to do any work on the move, then my iPad steps in.

But this doesn’t really answer the question as to why has Apple left such a big gap in the release dates. Since the release of the last iMac, we have seen new releases of pretty much the whole product line, including the iPhone (the 4S version), the iPad, the iPod nano, the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. Even the Mac Mini, Apple’s entry-range desktop computer which ships sans monitor and keyboard got a refresh in July 2011. So why has the iMac been left behind?

MacRumors Buyers Guide

The buyers guide on MacRumors.com, showing the long delay in the iMac refresh.

There are rumours flitting around that both the iMac as well as the MacBook range of computers will be kitted out with retina displays, similar to those on the new iPad and iPhone 4 and 4S (and there’s even elementary evidence in the developer preview of Mountain Lion that suggests this).

A theoretical retina display on a 21-inch iMac would have a resolution of roughly 3200 x 2000 pixels, or 163 pixels per inch (in comparison, the iPhone 4S has 326 ppi). This mean that the user will have to sit approximately 21 inches (or 54 cm) away from the screen to get the full benefits of it. iPhones and iPads are designed to be used at close vicinity, so naturally the retina display has to be noticeable from a shorter distance (which means upping the PPI count).

High Res OS X Mountain Lion

ArsTechnica.com found evidence of high-res icons in the Mountain Lion Developer Preview, indicating possible support for Retina Display Macs

Apple have, however, been holding off a retina display for Macs for good reason. It’s unchartered territory. No other hardware manufacturer has made a display with a resolution this powerful and there is currently no processor on the market which would support such a massive resolution. However, Intel’s upcoming Ivy Bridge processors, which are slated for release sometime this summer, will theoretically support multiple 4K video playback at up to a resolution of 4,096 x 4,096.

Another possible reason could be the rumoured Intel chip shortage which may be pushing the iMac release date further back into the year. The Ivy Bridge processors were due to be released next month however a senior Intel executive confirmed that the delay was due to a more complicated manufacturing process involved in making the new chips, not due to a lack of demand.

This strongly suggests that Apple has been eyeing up these chips for use in its new models and seeing as the delay only affects dual-core chips (remember the iMac uses quad-core ones), only the 13-inch MacBook Pro may be affected (though Apple may be kitting these out with quad-core processors as well).


It is rumoured that Apple will be kitting out their new range of iMacs with Intel's new Ivy Bridge processor, allowing for a much higher resolution support (and possible retina display)

Something To Look Forward To

Whatever the reason may be, I am sure that the iMac won’t be banished into the Apple history books like the PowerBook and white MacBook (which still upsets me slightly, seeing as I am the proud owner of one). The iMac raked in around $2 billion in revenue for Apple in Q1 2012 and this figure has been increasing steadily quarter-on-quarter. I’m sure that given this long delay, and the rumours about Intel’s new processors and retina displays for Macs, the refresh will be a big one and one that was definitely worth waiting for.

What are your thoughts on all this? Are you one of the many who are eagerly awaiting the 2012 iMacs? What reasons are behind the delay and when do you think we’ll finally see them?